It happened the day after my two year wedding anniversary. My phone rang just after 5 am, and my sister was in hysterics on the other end. She said "I need you to come to the hospital, they just took Mom in an ambulance. When she left here, she wasn't HERE." I told her to take a deep breath, and get herself to the hospital safely. I would meet her there shortly.
My husband and I got dressed and he insisted on driving. The hospital is about 15 minutes from our house, but the ride felt like it took hours. The whole way there, my heart was pounding. I was shaking. I kept replaying the last conversation I had with my mother, and tried to remember if I had told her that I loved her. It was how we ended every conversation we had on the phone. I was kicking myself for not taking her up on the offer to meet for dinner the night before. She mentioned it a few times leading up to our anniversary. She said she wanted to celebrate with us, that we just needed to let her know where and she would be there. Instead, we grocery shopped and went home without a lot of grandeur. I've spent 6 months thinking about that conversation, and wishing that I had not been so selfish.
When we arrived at the hospital, my uncle was outside. I had never seen him so upset. He was basically raised by my mother (as were her two sisters), and they were the best of friends. I hugged him, and we went inside. Walking through the doors of the emergency room was like walking into a time morph. Everything seemed to be moving in slow motion. We were told to wait in the "Family Waiting Room," and when I crossed the threshold of that doorway, I knew what was going to happen that day.
The doctor came in and explained that they had brought her back numerous times, and that he wanted us to see what they were doing to try and save her life. It sounded like an odd request to me, but the largest part of me wanted to make sure that Mom knew she wasn't alone.
The sight of my mother laying on a gurney with wires and tubes attached to her body is not one that I will ever forget. The sound of the heart monitor going from a beep pattern to a solid, steady hum still resonates with me. I hear everything when I close my eyes.
The nurse calling for assistance with the code. The doctor rushing in to perform the resuscitation.
The sound her body made when it jumped on the gurney from the shock.
The sight of the nurses face when the defibrillator had to be used again, and then again before they were able to get a heartbeat.
The cool feeling of her hand while I held it and told her that she wasn't alone. We were there, and we loved her.
Her laying there, exposed to our entire family because they had cut her clothes off.
My grandmother, aunt, sister, husband and in-laws watching the events unfolding before our eyes in shock, because no one knew what to say or do.
Mom was the glue, she handled all of these situations with grace that none of us had. We had never had to before.
They finally called a cardiologist to assess her situation after 4 hours. He informed the family that we would have to authorize him to perform a procedure to attempt to clear the blockage in her heart. It was found that 99% of her heart on the left side was filled with plaque, and the heart attack was triggered when that plaque tried to move. All my life I was told to not use any extraordinary measures.
"If it comes to that, let me go." I remembered her saying those words to me clearly while my sister and I tried to make the decision.
I knew in my heart I wasn't going to be able to live with my decision if we didn't try absolutely everything. So we did. When the procedure was complete, the cardiologist informed us that he was able to get the stint into her heart, but that there was less than a 50% chance that it would allow her to survive.
My mother was tough, you see. She battled cancer when I was ten years old. She beat it. She had been through a lot in her life, and in the years preceding her death, she worked at least 6 days a week. I thought that if anyone could make it through that, she could. She had to. How could I be without her at 27 years old, and my sister only 22?
She was finally stable enough to be transferred to ICU. The family was told to sit in the waiting room until she was placed in a room. My sister, grandmother, uncle and I were called into a small room where the Intensive Care Doctor sat on a desk and told us to prepare ourselves. Her prognosis was not good, and there was a very large chance we would leave there that day without a member of our family. We were told to think about her wishes and how she would have wanted us to handle the situation. He then took us to her room, where the same team of nurses were busy fidgeting with machines I had never seen before.
My sister, grandmother and I stood around her bed and told her how much we loved her. We told her to not give up, to keep fighting. My grandmother leaned down to kiss her on her cheek, and then that sound came again. The slow, continuous beep that screamed that her heart had given up again. The last thing I remember seeing before the doctor ushered us into the hallway was the nurse, acting in heroics and jumping on my mother's chest to try and get her heart to beat again. The three of us stood in the corner holding each other, unable to stop crying long enough to let what was happening register. Outside of her room, the doctor informed my sister and I that it was time to make a decision.
At that point, the total number of times Mom's heart had been resuscitated that day was sixteen. Sixteen times she let go, and was brought back. With those odds, how do we tell them to stop? The rational side of me has seen enough medical drama television shows to know that when the brain is deprived of that much oxygen, there was a very strong chance that if they were able to revive her again and it stuck, she wouldn't be the same person. That we were in for a lifetime of her suffering miserably because we were selfish and told the doctors to keep fighting to keep her alive. She would be a vegetable, unable to enjoy life for what it was.
It was the hardest decision I've ever had to make. As soon as we instructed them to stop, I felt that I had killed her. Walking the hallway back to the ICU waiting room, I was barely able to keep upright. I rounded the corner in time to see my husband waiting for me, and I collapsed into his chest. The panic attack that followed was enough information to inform the now 8 people in the waiting room that yes, she was gone. There was no more torture in store for her that day. She had been called home, where she would be free to relax and see all that God had in store for the rest of us here on Earth.
The look on my mother's face was a peaceful one. She wasn't fighting, because she was finally able to rest. I listened to my family come in one by one and say their goodbyes; each of them telling her how much she meant to them.
My mother was one of the rare, good people in this world.
In her 54 years, she raised her brother and sisters while my grandmother was working. She provided a life for herself and me until I was 5 years old. She married a man that she loved with all of her heart, who took advantage of her and left her to suffer in silence for the last 5 years of her life. She gave birth to my sister, who was the second miracle she performed. She was once told that she would never have the opportunity to have children. Instead, she left us to live out her legacy.
She fed the neighborhood children throughout my childhood, and then my sisters. All of our friends loved coming to "Miss Sam's" house, because we had the good snacks and my Mother was the person they felt safe talking to.
Through the past six months, I have learned the strength of myself and of my marriage. I have realized the truly important thing in life is that you LIVE it. My Mother spent her final days working, and taking care of others. Her very last day on earth was spent making sure that my Grandmother was able to get her eye surgically repaired and that my Uncle completed his monthly grocery shopping trip.
I am in no way ready to live the rest of my days without her, but I am coping.
My mother was 27 when she gave birth to me, and I was 27 when I lost her.
I was given the gift of having her as my mother and best friend for exactly 1/2 of her days on earth.
As I sit here now, reflecting on the day that I lost her and the rough days, weeks, months and years that lie ahead, I am able to appreciate the time that I had with her. The memories we made, the life lessons she taught me, and the things I learned just by watching her and the way she lived her life.
There are more things to come, and I want to document those things to share with the world. If I can help just one person put the loss of their mother into perspective, it will be worth the pile of tissues I accumulate during the writing process.